Helpful tips for parents supporting children during COVID-19

This can be a worrying time for parents and children alike and, with everything that’s going on, it’s only natural to feel a sense of unease and concern. Children and young people are worried by what they’re hearing on the news, and the daily updates can be alarming. You can reassure them and help them feel less worried when you talk to them calmly, and remind them that you will keep them safe. To save them (and yourself) from unnecessary anxiety, here are a few simple things you can do to help keep yourself and your family calm.

Take care of your own wellbeing and manage your anxiety

  • Focus on the known facts from trusted sources and keep things in perspective. Don’t dwell on worst case scenarios.
  • Remember all the helpful things that people are doing, and how hard our NHS and all frontline workers are working to keep us safe and well.
  • Limit your consumption of the news and make sure you get your news and information from safe and trusted sources
  • Children manage their fears best if their parents and carers are calm and reassuring. Protect your children from your fears, and share your fears instead with those adults who support you.
  • Get helpful advice on managing your wellbeing and anxiety from the NHS Every Mind Matters website.

Take your children’s concerns seriously and show empathy

  • Listen carefully and thoughtfully to your children’s concerns and worries and attend to them in calm and reassuring ways. Wellbeing advice for parents is availble here.
  • Tell them it is normal to feel concerned but help them see that the way the news is reported can make events sound scarier than they really are.
  • Make sure you have facts from trusted and safe sources. Let them read helpful explanations written for children. Try this Coronavirus book for children (PDF, 16.4MB).
  • Help them keep things in perspective; remind them of all the good things going on, and how Government guidance and the NHS are keeping us safe.

Check in with younger children

  • Young children may not understand what is happening at the moment, but they may be unsettled by changes in routine or pick up that you are worried or upset.
  • Look out for changes in their behaviour. Are they having more tantrums or being more argumentative? This may mean that they are worried but don’t know how to talk about it or what to do. Pick a calm time to talk with them about how they are feeling and respond to any outbursts in calm, consistent and comforting ways.
  • They may become more clingy, more fearful about being away from parents or carers, or become unsettled at bedtimes. Be gentle, patient and comforting with them, and reassure them you understand and will keep them safe.

Keep routines in place and create new ones where necessary

  • Setting and sticking to routines and schedules is helpful, even when you are at home all day - it helps things feel predictable and reliable.
  • Get up, get dressed, wash and eat in usual ways and times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Children, especially young ones, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.
  • Stick to regular mealtimes and bedtimes. A healthy diet and getting enough sleep: get local advice from www.hunrosa.co.uk that supports health.
  • Try to get regular exercise during the day in line with current guidance.
  • Ensure children do their schoolwork and stay in touch with teachers and school friends remotely. Set out a daily schedule and write it out every day. The schedule can mimic a school day, changing activities and work at regular intervals, with periods of work and play.
  • Have regular reminders of when you will change activities at home; this can head off ‘meltdowns’. We may all have to relax normal boundaries because these are unusual times; explain that to children. We try to be loving and flexible parents - not perfect ones!
  • Be supportive of family members and try and get everyone to help each other. Why not get everyone to help with chores? In that way all family members stay busy and no one feels overwhelmed.

Connect with others and stay in touch virtually

  • Keep your support network strong, even when you are only able to call, text or FaceTime family and friends. Socialising plays an important part in keeping us calm, grounded and content. The same is true for children. Communication helps children feel less alone and stressed when they are away from friends, extended family, and familiar adults, like teachers.
  • Remember how important socialising is for teenagers, who are naturally creating a little distance from parents. Their peer group gives them the safe space to find their identity, an important part of adolescence. Being separated from friends is tough, and social isolation is not good for our mental health – relax, let teenagers socialise virtually as often as possible.
  • Strengthen your loving connections, enjoy relationships and stay in touch with friends (remotely) using trusted apps. Talk with your children and loved ones. Enjoy moments of playful connections. Loving moments are good for us; they keep us calm and ward off stress reactions in our body.

Keep children and young people informed - answer their questions

  • Try to be armed with facts from trusted sources; this helps to keep coronavirus conversations calm, considered, and constructive.
  • Provide clear information about the situation, and answer children’s questions. Explain our government is taking significant measures to prevent the spread of the virus and keep us safe. That is why we are staying at home, regularly washing our hands, and travel is restricted. Scientists are working to develop a vaccine, and our NHS is working hard to take care of our communities.
  • Limit their consumption of news. It is important to be informed from trusted sources, but children need balanced exposure. Too much exposure raises anxiety, and makes it hard to keep things in perspective. Too little means they may not know the facts.
  • Children with special needs (e.g. those with learning difficulties, on the autistic spectrum, or children with a history of harm or trauma) are likely to need extra words of reassurance and comfort, more explanations or explanations adapted to their needs. They may need extra help in managing the changes to their routines and staying at home. Visit www.mencap.org.uk or www.autism.org.uk for help and advice.
  • The Children's Commissioner have created a children’s guide to coronavirus. The guide aims to answer children’s questions about coronavirus, tell children how to stay safe and protect other people and how to help them make the best of their time at home.

Be creative about play, new activities and exercise

  • Incorporate new activities into your routine – like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. Enjoy baking together. Ensure everyone gets some exercise. Do a family walk, family yoga or dance to music together. Have fun and exercise together
  • Think together as a family about what your favourite games and activities are and draw up a list. This might include: arts and crafts; imaginary games and puzzles; musical activities; board games; games of cards; and household projects. Learn something new together.
  • Try and discover new ways of playing together, and encourage children to play together. Listen to music. Get out all the craft things: colouring; knitting; LEGO; jigsaws; drawing; cards; board games; watch TV together. Do the cooking together and have some fun with this!

Emphasise all the positive things that are happening

  • Such as people helping each other, showing kindness, shopping for each other, putting fun ‘keep fit’ routines on the internet, talking to each other remotely using FaceTime, WhatsApp or applauding the front line workers (remember social distancing).
  • Find positive messages on the internet and the news.
  • Find fun things to do together.
  • See the good in people during the lockdown – all the ways people are helping each other, and keeping our spirits up through humour and fitness videos. Think of the NHS staff who work long hours; school staff who support us, directly and remotely; shop staff who make sure we have food and those neighbours who check in on the vulnerable among us.
  • Remember all the things that vital workers are doing to keep our communities going and keeping us well and safe.
  • Savour the small moments. Even when we are restricted to home we have small moments we can enjoy: the smell of coffee; a lovely shower; a moment cooking with our family; a funny game or loving smile. When you stop to take in these moments, rather than letting them rush by, you are giving your brain a chance to process joy and pleasure. This is very good for us and helps us stay calm.
  • When we tune into these positive, human aspects of the crisis, we are united in hope!

Offer practical and trusted advice to children about COVID-19

  • Ask them to cover their nose and mouth if they cough or sneeze.
  • Ask them to wash their hands clean by washing them often with soap and water or an alcohol-based gel (singing ‘happy birthday’ twice). The handwashing video below is great for young children. 
  • Encourage them to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Remind them why we must stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus, (except for daily walks with someone from their family). When out remain two meters away from others, not in your family group.
  • Stay active at home - families can join in the daily online ‘keep fit’ videos; dance to music at home; play in the garden if you have one. Do things together as a family to stay fit and make this fun. Sport England has lots of activities you can try at home. 

Advice for key workers and their children

Children are likely to be feeling unsettled by the upheaval of the coronavirus lockdown, and some may be more worried because of having a parent who is still going to work. This booklet (PDF, 370 KB) for parents gives some straightforward tips on how they can help their children to cope, which includes:

  • Asking the child questions and talking to them
  • Giving the child choices over their time
  • Making their routine as consistent as possible, particularly at bedtime
  • Helping them to understand and share their feelings

It also provides guidance on finding a balance between work and home life at a time when there are many different things for key worker parents to manage at once.

Dr Bethan Phillips, a member of the division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty for Children, Young People and their Families that produced the document, said: “We are all extremely grateful to key workers for the role that they are playing in keeping everyone safe and the country going, but we also appreciate the vital role of parenting. We hope that this information will be helpful to both key workers and their children in navigating these difficult times.”

In addition to the guidance for parents, there is also an advice sheet aimed at their children (PDF, 3.16 MB) to answer the questions they may have. It explains what a key worker is and why they have to spend so much time at work right now, discusses coronavirus safety on a basic level and encourages young people to talk to their parents when they’re feeling worried.

Explain words to children that they may not have heard before

  • Epidemic: A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.
  • Pandemic: An infectious disease, which has spread throughout several country or globally.
  • Virus: Viruses are a type of germ. Viruses cause colds, chicken pox, measles, flu, and many other diseases. Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t work on viruses like they do on bacteria. Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of viruses, especially before you eat and after you use the bathroom.
  • Coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a group of viruses, which produce symptoms similar to that of flu. Symptoms can range from a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever, but can also escalate to pneumonia. The virus gets its name from the word ‘corona’ which means crown in Latin.